Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stupid turkey

Don't believe what you read in the recipe books. Or online.
Turkeys, especially frozen ones, have minds of their own -- even though they're supposed to be among the stupidest creatures on the planet.
The weekend before Christmas (OK, admittedly, I was leaving things a little late) I sallied forth to purchase the festive bird. I went to Safeway.
The wonderful Joan pointed me to the amazing 99 cent sale, and advised me to buy a certain brand that she had had considerable luck with. (Thank you are in no way responsible for what was to come.)
It was in fact a frozen turkey. Normally, I'm much more organized and buy fresh fowl of whatever kind, but had not had time to order a fresh there it was, in my cart, the frozen one.
On Wednesday -- having been advised to thaw the thing three days ahead of time in the fridge -- I removed the turkey from its freezing spot and placed it, in its wrapper, in a pan, in the fridge.
Friday, I ventured down mid-afternoon to poke it. It was like granite. No perceptible thawing at all.
So, I bathed the beast in icy cold water for a couple of hours, trying to spur some thawing. It did, in fact, begin to soften a little. But we were on our way to Mom and Dad's for Christmas Eve events, and back the bird went into the fridge.
Saturday morning, full of hope, I returned to the fridge.
Rock hard. Yikes. You've got to be kidding, I told the bird.
Out it came, and back into its cold bath. We changed the water religiously every 30 minutes, rolling the bird around, hoping against hope it would thaw enough to place in the oven by 1.30. Dinner was at six. Time was of the essence.
At noon I panicked and called a close friend with my dilemma.
"Oh," she said, "that happens to me every year. Don't worry, it will thaw enough, and eventually cook enough, to serve."
She always takes the bird out of its wrap after a few hours, to hasten the process. This did, in fact, help. I moved the legs, ran cold water into the cavity, cut my hands on the internal ice and FINALLY -- by about 1.30 -- it was at least thawed enough to stuff and cook.
Somewhat relieved, I slid my festive offering into the oven.
It browned. It smelled delicious. Things were looking up.
Well, they were until 5.30...when I tested the temperature and realized it still had 40 degrees to go. How long was THAT going to take? And the interior of the leg was bloody red. Bloody hell.
A quick check with Mom proved disappointing...yes, it had to be 180 degrees. So we waited, and waited. 160. 170. 175.
An hour later, it finally reached 180 -- and sure enough, the juices ran clear. It was done! But was it dried out like, well, an overcooked turkey?
Ken took over to make the gravy and carve the bird while I finished the buns and vegetables. The meat landed on the table, neatly arranged on its platter.
And it was delicious...tender...even, in spots, juicy.
But first it put me through nine hours of hell. Next time, fresh bird!! Next time, add an hour to the cooking time!! Next time, make roast beef!
Don't believe everything you read.
Happy new year.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Forests and potash

I haven't been good about blogging. Bad, in fact.
I'm working on this new thing -- I think it's going to be a newsletter, although it might become a website. Still working out the details on that, but it's kept me away from the blog and focused on the new product.
I think it's going to be directed at women in the 45 to 65 age group (pre-retirement, but in sort of middle age.) I have these theories, and I've been collecting stories in my head about women as they begin to gently age, and it's turning into a thing. I hope. Jan (Mrs. IV!) has been helping.

The financial crisis in the United States -- and therefore much of the world -- had its roots in a much earlier time than folk think.
My theory is that following commodity markets gives you a pretty sharp look into the economy's future. Maybe this isn't rocket science, I don't know; but if we had looked more closely at the Canadian lumber industry's crash, I wonder if we would have figured out that something was seriously amiss in the American real estate market well before everyone had to take a bath on their mortgages.
Lumber demand had been drooping substantially well before big companies like Weyerhaeuser starting closing mills, including those in Saskatchewan way back in 2006. Part of the problem was certainly the softwood lumber agreement, but even that likely emerged partly due to sagging demand for board feet. The US government was protecting what was left of its own lumber industry.
So, no one (ok, I exaggerate) in the US was building new houses, at least as far back as 2005. Why? Glut on the market? Or could Americans not afford such things? Either way, something was changing, even in the days when the American consumer was still, big time, king of the world from an economy-driving standpoint.
Then, sub-prime mortgages began to emerge. At the loss-leader lower interest rates that lured homebuyers into ownership and therefore through the door of the bank, they could (if marginally) afford homes. The big American dream was saved. For the time being.
Another thing that some open-minded economists are arguing is that Americans were not specifically going broke because of that home in the suburbs. It was because they still had to drive to work, and were spending stupid amounts of money on energy. No one can afford to live downtown or even near downtown, so they're out in the sticks and filling up the truck every week. Brilliant theory, actually. If they could have walked to work, they may have survived the financial collapse.
Everyone more or less knows the rest. All hell broke loose. Foreclosures continue to climb, to the point where banks aren't even putting all their newly-repo'd houses on the market, for fear such a glut would drive prices down even further. (The Globe and Mail reported on this this week.)
(Interestingly, things seem to be the worst in traditional tourist states like Nevada, Arizona, Florida and California (along with a few others). Maybe the values were just the most inflated in these regions; or maybe other recession weary-nations weren't sending their citizens off to warm American climes.)
Anyway, I've been musing that the Canadian forestry industry might have been the canary in the coal mine in this case. I've also been thinking that economists and forecasters may not put quite enough emphasis on the end-user when they make predictions.
Take the potash price crash of last year. Prices were at historic highs -- and they were very, very high. When the recession came along, farmers couldn't afford potash. Period. They tried other fertilizers that were less expensive; they grew crops that required less potash; they did other things like create business groups to buy fertilizer in greater volume, to cut prices.
How was it amazing that the price fell, along with demand? The recession hit in 2008. In 2009, millions of farmers around the world voted with their feet, walked away from potash, and gave everyone a very clear view of how grassroots market forces react.
Just like homebuyers walked away from new homes in the mid-2000s.
As an addendum, there's something seriously amiss in a society where people can't afford to live near where they work, and can't afford to get to work to pay for where they live. Parts of Canada are like that, too.
I don't know what exactly the nub of the problem is, but it's serious and it's going to take a long time to work out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Oh, darn. So much for clairvoyance.
I had my fingers crossed for the speaker of the house, but the PM ignored my advice and chose David Johnston for Governor General instead!
I'll get over it.

Our roof is done, our roof is done. Somehow they managed to squeeze it in between storms, bless them. Maybe we'll stay dry now! Best of luck to everyone else coping with water, especially with flooded basements and swamped fields.
I wonder if Saskatchewan farmers have ever seeded fewer acres, at least since the Depression? At least 12 million acres are reportedly under water, about a third of the usually-planted acreage.
This is going to be a simplistic estimate...but if you multiply that by $5 per bushel of wheat times, say, 40 bushels per acre ($200), that's $2.4 billion -- a ridiculous amount of money coming out of the farm economy. And other crops like canola often bring more, so this could be conservative. Meanwhile, farmers still have to pay for their inputs. It's mind boggling.
Considering the average farm only brings in $17,000 to $22,000, depending on where it is and which figures you use, this could be a tragic year for agriculture.
For those who do have crops in the ground, if we get some warmth and the frost holds off, there could be some amazing yields. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Mother Nature throws us a bone.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lights are still on

Here's the thing about being the person who stayed home.
During the summer, everyone comes back to visit.
In my generation, people left Saskatchewan like they were being cattle-prodded or fleeing a hurricane. (This year, I'm considering it myself. No one told me the earth shifted and we are now in monsoon territory.)
It is wonderful that people come back for holidays, however short. Jennifer came home for a few days -- she still has family here -- and we spent two wonderful long lunches talking about everything, the way we always have. As we have become older, some of our conversation has become sad, some of it wonderful, some of it much too real; but it's always meaningful and instructive and supportive, and I wouldn't want to live without it. She has lived 'away' for something like 25 years, and I still miss her. I still get teary when we say goodbye and you'd think I'd be used to it by now.
The only consolation is that Jen writes the BEST emails.
My cousin will make her homeward sojourn later in the summer. My aunt's niece (I won't explain) came to visit her, and I lucked into lunch.
But it wasn't just my generation, entirely, who left. Sue, my friend Jan's mom, retired on the coast and has come back east (isn't that weird? Saskatchewan is east of somewhere) to visit friends, return to the lake, and attend a granddaughter's wedding in Alberta. It was great to see her, but also her friends, many of them Gateway Players stalwarts. Visiting with them was incredible; they are such vital, amazing, interesting people..but it also drove home the sad event of Gateway's demise.
I also got a call out of the blue that two women who attended Rosthern Junior College with my first mother were in town, and did I want to meet? One of them I had never seen before. Thanks, Dixie and June, for the visit. You are both remarkable.
Every summer, and often at Christmas, I get these pangs of missing folks and wondering if I've done things right. I'm not sure if it's because I stayed home, and wonder if I should have tried other places; then I could be the one coming home to visit. (That's a great big burbling bagful of what ifs, I tell ya. There was a time when Ken and I had the big talk about whether we should leave this place before it was us turning out the lights as we drove away. Didn't happen, but it looked a little bleak there for a while.)
Or, maybe I just think all my friends and family should all live here. Visiting is nice, but having your old friends in the same town is better.
I'm beyond lucky that my sister and brother and his family have come back to live here after years away. Life is better, rounder, richer and much more full of love with them nearby. My parents are also here (they stayed! thank goodness) and having the entire family in one spot is...well, wonderful isn't quite adequate, I think.
That being said, it's a heck of a good thing some folk come back to visit. If we wanted to visit everyone we love once a year or every two, we'd be flat broke. We would start in St. John's and basically not stop until we hit Victoria. We need two perpetual tickets to everywhere Air Canada (or WestJet) flies.
Which brings me to the lottery thing. I've actually started buying lottery tickets. I feel like an idiot every time, but you know, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket! You won't win anyway, but if you don't buy a ticket, you do realize, it is hopeless.
I'm not big on gambling, and generally think it's not very good for folks, and don't much like casinos. I don't mind a friendly family game of poker, where the highest bet is a quarter.
But I seem to be a lottery convert....because, if I ever win, I won't need the tickets everywhere Air Canada flies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

He must be reading my blog

Is Stephen Harper reading my blog?
Weeks ago, I suggested that Speaker Peter Milliken would be a fantastic candidate for Governor General (or even prime minister). Now, it appears that Canada's longest serving speaker will not run in the next election, whenever that will be. Speculation is swirling that, indeed, the PM might name him GG in the very near future.
I'm feeling clairvoyant. Either that or I have much more influence on the decisions of the PM than I thought.
If he does select Mr. Milliken, Mr. Harper will make an excellent, and non-partisan decision.


One should blog regularly. Trouble is, we've been on the move the last few weeks and a bit overwhelmed.
First, we opened the cabin. Then, we were in Winnipeg for an important birthday (Mum turned 80!) The following weekend, we flew to Victoria for a wedding (congratulations Jan and Bart!) and while on the island, headed to Tofino for a couple of days.
The highway to Tofino is insane. Wild traffic most of the way to Port Alberni, then a spectacularly scenic but slightly terrifying winding way up and down a few mountains. But Tofino was everything Jan said it beautiful, so peaceful, so elemental.
We stayed at the Chesterman Beach B&B, and here is my unconditional testimonial for this charming, well-run, and delightfully small (three suite) establishment. Go there. But stay longer than two and a half days.
We'll be back.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Water and Wilderness

I have moss between my toes. My tomatoes are drowning. The roof, sadly, still leaks, and help seems moons away: you can't replace a roof while it's raining.
I didn't need the media to tell me that this is the rainiest spring on record. That was already all too clear. Dad confirmed it for me: when someone who loves to farm is cranky about the rain, you know there is a problem.
If I wanted to live in this climate, I would long since have moved to Vancouver.
While I do have my tomatoes in, all other planting is on hiatus. How can you cast tender wee plants into the soil when you don't know whether it will frost, snow, and freeze? I'm not much of a gardener, but I'm pretty sure my seeds would be washed away.
When it began to pour buckets yesterday (as opposed to just the continuous, driving rain) I decided that was enough. Someone was to blame, and Someone had better turn off the tap before I became irate and decided to hurt Someone. Yes, the rain drove me to irrationality.
I tried to think about Quebec, where fires rage, or the Gulf coast, where five thousand barrels of oil a day are spewing into the water and washing up on the shores. It could be worse. I think.
On the slightly brighter side, there was half a day of beauty and peace on the lake last weekend. Sunday was dark and wet; Monday morning was cloudy and cool; but Monday afternoon was a panacea.
The sun actually shone, painting the trees with light and colour. The water was pristine and (relatively) calm. Even the fish were biting.
Ken caught 10 fish that day, keeping four -- three walleye, one pike. Yum. He also caught Leviathan, a massive pike that decided to chomp on his rapala. His head was so big that Ken couldn't grab him, and probably shouldn't have considering he was in a canoe. He was at least 20 pounds and nearly as long as my outstretched arms, if my hands are at right angles.
Sometimes fish are scary. I began quoting Moby Dick. Please don't call me Ishmael.
We wandered the trails and looked at the little explanatory trail signs (did you know this lake emerged from a melting glacier?) and sat on the deck and paddled around in the evening. I tried not to think; just watch and listen.
Two loons were the noisiest things on the lake, calling so loudly that their voices echoed back in a chorus from the trees. Only one other boat was out, a small fishing boat quietly plumbing the pickerel hole near the public beach.
When it's hard to find yourself, among the work and the house and the errands and the busy, Saskatchewan's north is a good place to go looking.
Two days later, juxtaposed unpleasantly against the quiet moments of the lake, I saw a kid with a knife.
I had visited Mom and Dad, and was taking the shortest route home -- straight down Third Avenue, then across the bridge and down Victoria Avenue. I stopped at the light on Third and 23rd, and watched three youths dance across the street in front of me.
One of them -- the smallest -- was flipping a knife (closed -- it was either a fold-out or a switch) around in his fingers. I couldn't miss it; he was right in front of me. Then he pulled his bright green hoodie down over it (it was somehow attached to his belt loop) and the three boys walked over to talk to three other kids waiting for a bus. Were they friends? I hope so.
I have to say, and maybe I am naive, but I was quite shocked; shocked enough to call the police, to ask them if I should have done anything. To them, I think, this is probably pretty common. To me, it was a wake-up call. That, on top of the assault of StarPhoenix reporter Bob Florence and last week's east-side shooting of a 17-year-old, is seriously disturbing. We -- as a city and a society -- have to get a wider grip on our issues before none of us feel safe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ramp it up

Last November, I busted my foot.
It was spectacularly stupid. I fell off the bed (and got no end of suggestive comments about it.) What I was intelligently doing was standing on the bed to mess with the drapes, which did not want to close. Apparently I was too near the edge of the bed, and went down on my left foot, pronated it, stretching the tendon (and spraining my ankle while I was at it), which snapped my baby metatarsal. Note to self and reader: never do this.
Yes, it hurt. But the pain of being temporarily disabled was far greater.
What brought this back today was a report on the CBC, noting that it would take 80 years for the City of Saskatoon to install ramps on all street corners. They've made a start, but they're a long way off from getting them all sloped.
Tell me about it.
Since I could not even carry a cup of coffee to the table, I invested in the rental of a wheelchair. At least I could help cook and more or less navigate through the main part of the house, instead of lurching along on crutches. You see, when you break your foot, you can't use your hands for much either, since they are busy supporting your weight.
So, I got the wheelchair. Trying to keep up with at least a little bit of exercise, my husband and I sallied forth into the streets, with me wheeling for as long as my weak upper body could manage, and then getting pushed for a while.
It didn't take long before I realized that city sidewalks are slanted. This is in some ways a good idea, since rain will slide off them; but keeping your wheelchair from running off the curb is tricky. Once you get to the corner, you try not to fall out of the chair as you navigate down the ramp -- if there is one. But at least you can cross the street, if you remain upright.
As often as not, though, there is no ramp. Therefore, you must wheel down the street until you find a likely-looking driveway. Some of them are pretty steep; others are not too bad. But meanwhile, you're on the street, and it can be scary.
I am really lucky. I'm walking again. Others, however, don't have that luxury. They have to put up with bumpy streets, slanting sidewalks and finding ramps wherever they go. I never realized how brutal it is to get around until my fall...and in the fall, it was okay. Once it snowed, I was toast. It was slippery and absolutely terrifying. I gave up on trying to wheel anywhere, apart from out of the car and into the grocery store. (Try shopping for food on crutches.)
I have a new-found and enormous respect for the amazing and intrepid people who somehow manage getting around these streets every day. They, I'm sure, want more ramps, and after spending three months wheeling and crutching around, I'm behind them all the way.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Milliken is the man

Ever since the news emerged that the Governor General is on her way out, people and pundits have been lining up to suggest successors. Some of these ideas amaze me -- such as William Shatner. I have nothing against the man at all, but what on Earth qualifies him for GG? Is he a student of democracy, or just a former starship captain?
He wouldn't be the first actor to take on some kind of public or political role, and I like him much better than Ronald Reagan -- plus, Shatner is bilingual, by all accounts -- but still...
Some other reasonable suggestions include Wayne Gretzky, hockey hero; Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; and former General John de Chastelain. I wonder if people are actually serious when they suggest Don Cherry.
I would recommend Speaker of the House Peter Milliken, except that he is doing a remarkable, thoughtful, even brilliant job in his present role.
Last week, Milliken defended democracy by proclaiming that Parliament is supreme over any sitting government. (Might I point out that this only makes sense. All of these MPs were elected by Canadians, not just the government MPs. Ergo, share the power.)
Standing in the House of Commons, Milliken gave a short history of Canadian democracy in a well-researched and beautifully-worded 45 minute address. Essentially, he insisted that Parliament find a way to compromise on the redacted documents that have been provided to a committee struck to investigate the Afghan detainee case. He gave the government two weeks to find a way for the opposition to view the documents without hurting national security, if indeed that is an issue.
I don't know how concerned most Canadians are about the government's apparent secrecy on this file, but turning over prisoners with the knowledge that torture is possible -- if that is the case -- is horrific. The government must tell Canadians the truth on this issue. If it's happening, Canadians must tell the government the practice has to stop.
The first step is contained in Milliken's direction to Parliament. It seems that the parties are in discussions and trying to make this happen; they better. There have been too many detours from democracy in the past couple of years.
At the risk of sounding flippant (I hope not; I admire him too much) I suppose I would prefer to clone Milliken, who would be a fantastic GG; but he is also one of the best speakers Canada has ever had, by all accounts.
On second thought, perhaps I should be pressing for Milliken for prime minister. The current leadership landscape is a little thin. At least Milliken has a grip on what has made this country functionally democratic...and is standing up for it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The First Post

It snew.
It's April 25, and it snew. Again. It seems like a great day to start a blog.
It wouldn't be so bad -- the snow, I mean -- except that yesterday we were all sitting outside (in the afternoon) drinking sangria and eating burgers and pretending it was summer, in the way Saskatchewan people do.
It was a great party, actually...many old friends, all of whom I like, catching up on news and job stress and family stories. Some people, like us and like Karen, are renovating. The difference between us and Karen is that we HAVE to renovate; leaking roof, cracked concrete. Sigh. Karen is redoing her kitchen, although not without numerous challenges. I would still rather be redoing the kitchen.
But late snow after early summer is always a little hard to take. We did squeeze in the removal of the cracked concrete and the construction of new front steps before this latest round of poopy weather, which I regard as a bit of a coup. Round one of renos, done. I don't recall a spring quite this weird, though, where real heat is quickly followed by late winter cold, and then more heat, and more cold and more snow.
We're anxiously watching for the garlic bulbs to push out their little green pointy bits (when does this usually happen? we're garlic neophytes) and already have lilies of the valley. I hope they don't freeze. I hope I don't freeze. Parka's coming out for our weekly Sunday wander.